Civil partnerships in the United Kingdom, made possible under the Civil Partnership Act 2004, came into effect with much attention from the press and the public. This enabled same sex couples to register a civil partnership, giving them almost the same legal rights and obligations as marriage does for mixed sex couples.
However, a recent case heard by the Court of Appeal has thrown the spotlight on the campaign aimed at overturning the ban on heterosexual couples entering into civil partnerships.
Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who started this case in 2014, were seeking the right to enter into a civil partnership, on the basis that denying them the right to do so, is discriminatory.
Whilst all three Court of Appeal judges agreed that the current situation prohibiting mixed sex civil partnerships could not last forever, only one of those said that the government needed to change the law immediately. The other two judges took the view that ministers could have longer to review the law that prevents mixed sex couples from taking advantage of civil partnership arrangements.
The couple have vowed to challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court should it become necessary if the law is not changed.
Supporters of the campaign to enable mixed sex couples to enter into a civil partnership cite the fact that when the Civil Partnership Act came into force, it offered a progressive and new way for couples to gain legal recognition of their relationship, and that it is only fair that this be available to all and the “civil partnership loophole” closed. It is argued that now that same-sex marriage has effectively been legalised, it is anomalous that civil partnerships are not available to all couples regardless of their gender.
There may be many and varied reasons why a cohabiting couple choose not to marry. However every year thousands of unmarried couples separate and when this happens, they have little or no legal protection. This is the case regardless of whether they have been living together for 2 years or 20 years, or even whether they have children or property together. Unlike the situation where a couple are married or in a civil partnership, there is currently no legal framework to govern their rights and responsibilities and this often results in financial hardship and feelings of injustice and uncertainty for the parties involved.
Whilst the government has given same sex couples most of the rights of married couples via the Civil Partnership Act, it has stopped short of extending these rights to heterosexual couples living together outside of marriage, either by way of mixed sex civil partnership or an alternative legal framework to ensure the parties’ financial responsibilities to each other. However with Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan vowing to fight on, and with a clear indication from the Court of Appeal that the situation needs to be reviewed by the government, surely it’s only a matter of time before mixed sex civil partnerships become law.